Human trafficking happens in every country in the world, in many different forms; however, the causes behind human trafficking are essentially the same for labor trafficking, sex trafficking, child trafficking, and all other types of modern-day slavery. Here are the 10 causes of human trafficking around the world.
Poverty is one of the largest contributors to human trafficking. It can drive people to become traffickers; it can drive parents to sell children or other family members into slavery. People in poverty are targeted by traffickers, who offer them a way to earn money when, in fact, they will actually earn nothing and be treated as a slave. Poverty also plays a large piece in many of the other root causes of trafficking, driving people to migrate, making education and legitimate work difficult to obtain, making recovery and safety from war and disaster impossible, and more.
Lack of education
A lack of education can lead to decreased opportunities for work at a living wage, and it can also lead to a decreased knowledge of one’s rights. Both outcomes can cause people to be at a greater vulnerability for human trafficking. Education can also empower children to make changes in their community as they grow older that will prevent situations and vulnerabilities of which traffickers take advantage.
Demand for cheap labor/demand for sex
Basic economics tells us that for a market to form, supply and demand need to exist. The demands for cheap labor and for commercialized sex lead to opportunities for traffickers to exploit people. Traffickers can make a large profit by producing goods and services through cheap or free labor and selling the products or services at a higher price. Commercialized sex is a lucrative market that allows traffickers and pimps to become the only profiter from their victims through an endless cycle of buyers and high prices.
Lack of human rights for vulnerable groups
In many countries, marginalized persons lack institutionalized human rights, which can make them more vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers can prey on these marginalized groups because they lack protection from law enforcement, their families, and even the society they live in. When countries lack fundamental laws regarding human rights, traffickers feel as though they can get away with what they are doing more easily. Worse, in some countries, including our own, these laws can also end in punishment for victims.
Lack of legitimate economic opportunities
When people lack legitimate economic opportunities, it can lead to increased vulnerability to human trafficking. Groups that are especially vulnerable in this area are migrants without work permits, those who lack education, those who live in rural areas where there are fewer jobs available, and women and certain ethnic groups who may not be able to get jobs due to discrimination. Traffickers offer seemingly legitimate jobs to people who cannot get them otherwise, only to lure them into forced labor, sex trafficking, bonded labor, and more.
Social factors and cultural practices
In many countries, cultural practices and social factors are a major cause of human trafficking. In some places, bonded labor is seen as an acceptable way to pay off debt. In other places, selling children to traffickers is the norm, especially for poorer families in rural areas. Some countries, such as Mauritania, still practice antiquated slavery, where families are held for generations by slave-masters. There are also instances, like in Uzbekistan, where forced labor is institutionalized. During the cotton harvest, all adults and children are expected to work in the cotton fields until the crops are harvested. Cultural and social factors can also prevent victims from seeking help.
Conflict and natural disaster
Conflict and natural disasters can lead to economic instability and lack of human rights, giving traffickers an advantage and making people more vulnerable to human trafficking situations. In conflict zones and wars, some rebel or military groups will use child soldiers and keep sex slaves. Additionally, both conflict and natural disaster can lead people to migrate out of their hometowns and home countries, making them more vulnerable to traffickers, especially if they are looking for work or paying smugglers to get where they want to go. And with increased economic instability, traffickers have opportunities to offer false job offers to people, leading them into trafficking situations.
Trafficking generates a large profit
One major cause of human trafficking is the large profit that traffickers gain. This is an incentive for them to continue trafficking people in both forced labor and sex trafficking. For traffickers using forced laborers and bonded laborers, they get cheap labor and can sell their product or service at a much higher cost. For those using sex trafficking, they can easily take all of the profit, forcing women to make a certain amount each night, and keeping them in the situation through drugs, violent force, threats, and more.
Lack of safe migration options
People looking to migrate out of their home countries due to safety concerns or economic opportunities are especially vulnerable to traffickers. Traffickers can use illegal smuggling as a way to trick people into forced labor or sex trafficking. For migrants looking for jobs in other countries, traffickers typically offer them job opportunities that seem legitimate, only to force them into a trafficking situation. For instance, when Russia was preparing for the Sochi Olympics, several men from Serbia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and other nearby countries were promised construction jobs, only to be paid very little and be treated poorly. And many women from countries like Nigeria, Ukraine, and other Eastern European and African countries are offered nannying or restaurant jobs in Western Europe, only to be trapped in sex trafficking.
Beyond cultural practices, the profit, vulnerabilities of certain people groups, lack of human rights, economic instability, and more, traffickers are the ones who choose to exploit people for their own gain. While many of these factors may play into the reasons why traffickers get into the business, they still make a willful decision to enslave people against their will — either because of the profit, because they believe that certain people are worth less, because of the abuse that they themselves experienced.
Trafficking ultimately exists because people are willing to exploit others.